PepsiCo, Danone, and Mondelez International, the parent company of Oreo, Cadbury, and Toblerone to name a few, were just some of the leading global food corporations to make their way to Israel this week for a taste of the latest local innovations in food, beverage, and agriculture technology.
The multinational companies took part in the annual FoodTechIL event, a conference on Tuesday at the Tel Aviv port that drew some 1,500 participants (according to organizers) including senior executives, investors, representatives from more than 50 startups as part of an exhibition on the latest technologies in the food sector. The event was hosted by the Strauss Group, one of Israel’s biggest food product companies, which also runs the food tech accelerator The Kitchen. A number of the startups in the exhibition are part of the accelerator, including several that have garnered international attention like Aleph Farms which unveiled the world’s first lab-grown, slaughter-free steak late last year, and the award-winning company Yofix which makes plant-based, soy-free yogurts.
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“Businesses today understand that we have a crucial role in using technology to make a positive impact on society, on people’s health and wellness and the environment,” said Ofra Strauss, Chairperson of the Strauss Group, in a statement. “Our responsibility is to make food in a sustainable way that goes beyond profits and revenue and focuses on people, society and the planet.”
“As someone who was born into the food industry, food is not just words for me, I know that food matters,” Strauss said in an address at the event. To meet global challenges in the food chain supply and to feed a growing world population, “we cannot continue to do things the way we used to do,” she said. “We must reimagine the whole food world, we must renew it, and we must reassure everyone around it that we know what we are going to do.”
The food and agriculture industry is one of the largest and most important industries in the world, worth an estimated $8.7 trillion in 2018.
In Israel, food-agri tech firms drew some $103 million in equity investment in 2018, “putting the Israeli sector on par with, and sometimes exceeding, much larger nations like Australia and India,” according to a newly published report by Start-Up Nation Central (SNC).
And 2019 is on track to be a record funding year for the sector with $135 million in investments so far (up to Q3), SNC said. This includes the $22 million raised by DouxMatok, a startup that developed a patented sugar reduction solution and which has drawn international attention. According to the newest data, Israel is home to 350 food-agri startups (as of mid-2019) founded in the past decade that focus on “deep tech” innovation primarily for the global agri-food industry. SNC also noted an increased rate of new company creation, with an annual average of 37 new startups since 2014. And since 2016, 124 startups have been established, more than the total founded in the previous six years.
This trend represents a “second wave” of food-agri tech innovation, SNC says, “driven by both the growing global demand for efficient and sustainable food production technologies and the strength of various technologies in Israel,” such as AI, robotics, data, sensing, and computation.
According to a report earlier this year by SNC and AgFunder, Israeli startups offering advanced imagery tech and complex systems such as farm management software, sensors and IoT, pest and disease detection and water efficiency tech for crops, drew the largest investments in 2018. These include companies like precision agriculture startup Taranis which raised $20 million, SeeTree, an agri-tech intelligence company that uses drones and sensor technology to provide farmers with actionable analytics on their crops and trees and which raised $15 million, and CropX which built machine-learning powered devices that go into the soil to boost agricultural output.
Startups focused on agri-biotechnology including AI identification of inputs, algorithm-powered seed breeding, root-based non-GMO breeding, and cures for dairy cows, drew the second-largest number of deals, the report said. This second wave of companies using advanced tech in the food-agri sector builds on the longstanding tradition of innovation and excellence in agriculture that Israel developed over the last 100 years (even before the establishment of the state) to address resource shortages and the existential need to achieve food and water security in a challenging climate, the SNC report reads, referring to this period as the “first wave.”
“As the world’s population rises and urbanizes, standard agricultural methods are not enough to supply it without depleting natural resources and causing severe environmental damage. Climate change makes weather more volatile and less predictable, making growing food even more difficult, according to the report.
Tamar Weiss, SNC’s Agri-Food Tech Sector Development Manager, said in a statement, “We see a transition from food security to nutritional security, and growing interest not only in increasing yield and profit, but also in health and sustainability. Data is transforming this industry.”